Arts Council on the Road #ArtPrize

by Lindsay Glatz

We’re pretty far from home. On September 20, two team members of the Arts Council of New Orleans arrived in Grand Rapids for Artprize, which describes itself as a “radically open, independently organized international art competition.” In its five years, Artprize has invested more than $3 million in award money directly to artists.

What are we doing here, aside from observing, thinking about, and talking about art and its effects on landscapes and communities? We’ve been invited by Artprize to be a venue curator, the first time that anyone from the South has assumed that role. Our “venue” is arguably the most ambiguous and interesting one here: the Grand River, the longest river in Michigan, which bisects Grand Rapids’ downtown. We chose New Orleans sculptor Alex Podesta’s Self Portrait as Bunnies (The Bathers) for our vast venue. The piece – two of Podesta’s signature bunny figures which will float and bob in the river, visible from the torso up – is strange, chilling, and very context-specific. In New Orleans the piece would inevitably read as a reference to the torrential flooding of the city following Hurricane Katrina. Here in Grand Rapids, we’re honestly not yet sure what the local reaction will be to Podesta’s idiosyncratic, immediately recognizable work. Interestingly, we actually have a way of finding out. Artprize’s $200,000 grand prize is determined by what is essentially a local popular vote.

Does incentivizing artists and curators with payouts affect the content of artwork? Does the Artprize model risk converting the critical consideration of art into a popularity contest? What are the effects of a large-scale art event such as this on a community, something we’re thinking about in relation to the third Prospect Biennial, which opens in New Orleans October 25? We’re pretty thrilled to find out and honored to participate in this totally unique art event.

Artprize officially opens on September 23, and we’ll be posting more content here as we continue to think about these questions.

-Nick Stillman, Deputy Director, Arts Council of New Orleans